When Eddie Barnes, of popular group The Seagulls, is electrocuted on the stage of the Cellar Club, in front of three hundred adoring fans, the Liverpool Police immediately call in Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend. But Woodend doesn't understand why Eddie's mother says that Eddie had a girlfriend, while his best mate insists that he didn't. And who has been playing nasty tricks on The Seagulls, culminating in Eddie finding a dead rat – with a noose round its neck – in his guitar case? As Woodend battles with the complexities of the case, he is more than aware that if he does not find the murderer soon, there could well be another death.
About the Author
Sally Spencer worked as a teacher both in England and Iran - where she witnessed the fall of the Shah. She now lives in Spain and writes full-time. She is an almost fanatical mah jong player.
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No one even suspected there was going to be a murder. But then why would they? Murders took place in dark alleys and on vast empty commons. They were essentially private acts, shared only by the victim and the killer – not a spectator sport for nearly three hundred people. And it seemed somehow wrong that anyone should lose his life between the hours of noon and one, which nature had decreed was the time when all respectable people should be eating their dinner.
The girls, unaware that anything as horrific as homicide was about to happen, were queuing patiently outside an unprepossessing wooden door on a cobbled street which was just wide enough to allow two small lorries to pass one another at a slow speed. Most of the girls were wearing the kind of high-heeled shoes which their mothers disapproved of, and had their lacquered hair piled high on their heads, in what the newspapers were calling the 'beehive' look. They were typists and shop assistants, junior shipping clerks and hairdressers. After work, many of them returned to homes where their fathers' word was still law; but now, in the middle of the day, they were about to experience true freedom. Though the rest of the world was still ignorant of the musical explosion which was soon to hit it, they knew the revolution had already happened, and that for the payment of just one shilling, they could shimmy and shake to the liberating rhythms of rock'n'roll.
Ron Clarke, the Cellar Club's resident disc jockey and a grand old man of nearly thirty-five, was sorting through his collection of records and only half listening to the conversation which was going on behind him in the bricked-off alcove at the edge of the stage, generously called 'the dressing room'.
"Now remember, boys," said a voice Clarke recognised as belonging to Jack Towers, the group's manager, "this isn't just any old performance. It's never any old performance. This could be the day somebody really important comes into the club, and catches your act – so no messing about."
Ron Clarke shook his head and clicked his tongue. Would Jack Towers never learn? Hadn't he been the Seagulls' manager long enough to know that this kind of approach would never work with a lad like Steve Walker?
"You know somethin', Jack?" Walker asked. "Listenin' to you is just like bein' back at school." He slipped effortlessly into a middle-class accent. "'Are you chewing, Walker? You should be listening to me, not doodling, Walker. You'll never get anywhere in life with your attitude, Walker.' So what will you do if I misbehave, Jack?" he continued in his normal voice. "Give me the cane? Or just make me write out 'I must learn not to be a naughty little rhythm guitarist' a hundred times?"
The disc jockey turned slightly to watch the rest of the little drama between the manager and the guitarist play itself out, though why he was interested he couldn't really say, since he'd seen variations on the same theme at least a dozen times.
Central to the drama – for the moment at least – was Jack Towers. He was tall and gangly, and always looked to Ron Clarke like a scarecrow who had at last saved up enough for a decent suit, but remained a scarecrow nonetheless. He was standing awkwardly in front of the group, who were lounging with studied cool in four battered armchairs.
Towers lit a fresh cigarette from the stub of the one he'd just been smoking, and shifted his position slightly.
A wiser man would leave things as they were, Clarke thought, but not Jack. The problem with him is, he just doesn't know when to keep his gob shut.
"What you don't seem to realise, Steve, is you don't get to be successful just because your music's good," Towers said. "Presentation counts too." He ran his eyes over the blue jeans, black sweaters and brown boots which the Seagulls wore almost as a uniform. "Now if you'd just tone down your act a bit, and wear nice matching suits like the Shadows do —"
"Dang, dang, dang, dangderang, dang ..." Steve Walker interrupted, imitating a twanging guitar.
"Listen, Steve —"
Walker sprang to his feet so suddenly that for a moment Ron thought the boy was going to take a swing at his manager. But it soon became plain that the reason he'd stood up was to imitate the synchronised steps the Shadows used in their stage act as he continued to 'dang dang', drowning out whatever it was Jack Towers had wanted to say.
Steve had a reputation as a hard bugger, Ron Clarke reminded himself, and he looked the part with his solid muscular body and his face which was all angles – pointed nose, sharp cheekbones and a jaw which looked like it could open tin cans. Even his dark eyes seemed to have a cutting edge to them, especially on occasions like this, when he was starting to get angry.
Walker had finished his performance, and flopped back on to the couch again. "Do you really call that kind of rubbish music, Jack?" he demanded.
"The Shadows are very popular," Jack Towers said in a long-suffering voice. "They're one of the top acts in the country – and they look good on television."
"An' in twelve months' time, everybody will be wonderin' what the fuss was all about," Steve Walker said. "They're nothin' but a novelty act. But we're real, and we're goin' to be bigger than they could ever be – twice as big. So don't talk about the Shadows to me – we'll be leavin' them in the shadows. Only we're goin' to do it our own way." He turned to the pale, thin-faced boy sitting next to him. "Isn't that right, Eddie?"
Eddie Barnes had huge eyes which were so intense they could look either haunted or haunting, depending on his mood, but now, as he turned them on Steve Walker, they were full of hero worship. "That's right, Steve," the young lead guitarist said.
Walker should have left it there, Ron thought, but just like Jack Towers, he didn't know when to shut up.
"You tell him, Billie," he said to the group's drummer, managing to make it sound almost like an order. "You tell him we're goin' to be massive."
Billie Simmons, the only member of the group to favour a cowlick curl over the quiffs the rest wore, let a slight smile play on his rubbery lips. "We're goin' to be massive," he said, but in such a deadpan drawl that it was impossible to say whether or not he believed it – or even if he cared one way or the other.
"So that's almost unanimous, isn't it?" Steve Walker said, looking pointedly at Pete Foster, the bass player and the fourth member of the group.
Ron Clarke saw the hesitant expression fill Foster's boyish face. He doesn't like arguments, this one, the DJ thought. He prefers to pretend that things are going absolutely fine, even when it's perfectly obvious to everybody else that they aren't.
"Well?" Steve Walker asked.
"There's no point in bein' a good group if nobody outside Liverpool ever hears us," Pete Foster argued. "An' there's no point in you an' Eddie writin' all those songs if we're the only ones who ever sing them."
Steve Walker's dark eyes became almost black. "Is that you talkin', Pete – or is it your mum?" he said, with a dangerous edge creeping into his voice.
"Leave my mum out of it," Pete Foster answered, for once seeming on the verge of getting angry himself.
"All right, I'll leave her out of it," Steve said curtly. "An' I'll leave you out of it an' all, if you like. You understand what I'm sayin', our kid? Any time you're not happy with the way the group's goin', you know where the door is." He turned his attention to their manager. "An' that goes for you as well, Jack."
Jack Towers looked crushed. "I only want what's best for you," he said helplessly. "You know that. I only want the group to do well."
His words – or perhaps their tone of desolation – seemed to soften Steve Walker. The coiled-up tension left his body, and he leaned forward to pat the manager on the arm.
"You're a good lad, Jack," he said, "but you've got to learn that we're the musicians around here – an' we're the ones who make the decisions about the act." He put his hand in his trouser pocket, and rattled his change. "Must be at least two bob in there," he guessed. "How about we set up the gear, then nip across to the Grapes for a quick half?"
The other members of the group nodded their agreement. Jack Towers nodded too, and said, with some relief in his voice, "That's a good idea, but I'm buying, so you'll all have pints."
The argument had ended just as he'd thought it would, Ron Clarke told himself – which was to say it had ended not with anything being settled, but simply because Steve Walker had decided he'd had enough.
The drums were already on stage, but the rest of the equipment had been stacked at the far end of the dressing room. Clarke watched the Seagulls pick up their guitars and amplifiers. The guitars were not the best that money could buy, but they were adequate for the job. The amplifiers, on the other hand, were a disaster. They had been cobbled together from pieces of other amps which had long ago given up the ghost, and if they could be relied on to do anything, they could be relied on to break down. Which was a pity, Ron Clarke thought, because the Seagulls were a talented group and really did deserve better.
The group, guitars and amps in their hands, squeezed through the narrow space between the DJ and the wall. As they passed him, Ron Clarke caught a distinct whiff of aftershave. It came as a surprise to him, as he knew the Seagulls had always considered such things effeminate – and though he could not swear to it, he was almost sure that the person who was wearing it was Eddie Barnes.
The big red-haired man opened the door, and the girls began to stream in through the gap. Balanced precariously on their high heels, they clacked and clattered their way carefully down the twenty steep stone steps which led to the club.
The place was, in fact, no more than three parallel interconnected tunnels, each supported by a series of brick archways. The first tunnel could have best been described as a reception area – it was there that the money was paid and the coats deposited. The furthest tunnel, which was shorter than the other two because of the bricked-off dressing room, served as a dance area. But it was the middle tunnel which, inevitably, was the centre of attention. At one end of it stood the snack bar, which served milk, Coke, pies and sandwiches. At the other end was the concrete-floored stage. And between the two were row after row of hard wooden seats.
The stage itself was not much to speak of. Even with the minimal equipment they carried around with them, the groups who played on it found very little room for manoeuvre, often banging into the ancient upright piano which stood at one side of it, or almost falling through the gap in the wall which led to the dressing room on the other.
The cellar had minimal ventilation and once a group had been playing for a while, moisture would drip down the walls, sometimes fusing the crude amplifiers. As the lunchtime session progressed, the place would grow hotter and hotter, clothes would become little more than wet rags, and the atmosphere would be thick with the smell of sweat and cheap perfume. Nor were the cellar's acoustics much to write home about. Almost anywhere – even a rickety village hall used for a boy scouts' meeting one day and a Women's Institute tea party the next – would have allowed a cleaner, clearer sound than was possible in the brick vault.
Noisy, suffocating, muffled. None of that mattered. The echoes of the drumbeats might bounce off the walls, drowning the vocals, but the audience knew, with an absolute certainty, that they were in the most exciting place in the world, and experiencing something they would remember for the rest of their lives.
For a few minutes the girls wandered around aimlessly, patting their helmet-like hairdos, lighting a fresh cigarette or ordering a meat-and-potato pie at the bar. Then a sound like the hiss of an angry snake filled the air – a sign that the disc jockey, crouched in front of a cupboard in the dressing room, had switched on his equipment – and a ripple of anticipation ran through the room.
Ron Clarke spoke, using just the words they'd known he would. "Hi, all you cave dwellers – welcome to the best of cellars." And before even the first few beats of the pulsating R&B assaulted their ears, some of the girls were already dancing.
At a quarter past twelve, Ron Clarke put a fresh record on the turntable, then stuck his head out on to the stage to see if there was any sign of the Seagulls. They were just arriving back from the pub, making their way past the hard wooden seats towards the stage. Not that it was an uninterrupted journey, Clarke noted, but then he'd never thought it would be. The Seagulls were local heroes, and it was only natural that some of the people who had come to see them – especially the girls – would want a few words with them before they went on stage.
He watched the way the four of them dealt with their admirers, and decided that in this, as in so many other ways, they were four very distinct personalities. Steve Walker just stood there, soaking up this show of minor adoration as if it were no more than his due. Billie Simmons, his long nose and thick lips twisted in a comical expression, was making the girls around him giggle. Pete Foster had an uncertain half-smile on his face – a smile which said that while he was loving all this, there was a part of him which was already worrying about how long his popularity would last. And Eddie Barnes? Eddie was trying to be polite to the girls who had surrounded him, but it was plain that he saw listening to them as nothing more than a distraction from his real purpose, which was to play his guitar.
They were all good lads, Ron thought. Steve could be a little abrasive, but he had a heart of gold. Pete was insecure – and with a mother like his, who wouldn't be? – which sometimes caused him to be less than honest, but he'd probably grow out of that. It was impossible not to like Billie, with his droll approach to life. But it was Eddie Barnes, Ron decided, who he had the softest spot for. Eddie was so serious and so gentle. He hardly ever said a word, yet the DJ sensed that it was he, rather than one of the others, that people would go to when they were in trouble.
The four young men climbed up on to the stage. Ron Clarke nodded to them, then retreated into the dressing room. Billie Simmons got behind his drum kit, and the rest of the group picked up their instruments.
The record which had been playing came to an end. There was a click as the needle navigated its way through the empty groove, then another hiss from the tannoy system. The uncomfortable seats were all occupied, and most of the girls who'd been dancing in the third tunnel now stood in the archways, craning their necks to get a good view of the stage.
From the cramped space in front of his record player, Ron Clarke made his announcement. "Put your hands together, boys and girls, and give a big welcome to one of Liverpool's greatest groups – the Seagulls!" The young men just stood there while the applause filled the air. "Never start playing until the clapping's begun to fade," Jack Towers had told them more than once – and in this matter, at least, Steve Walker was prepared to follow the manager's instructions.
It was perhaps a minute before the applause did start to die down. Steve Walker and Pete Foster quickly stepped forward, but it was Steve who won the race to the microphone.
"Are you feelin' good?" he asked his audience.
A couple of hundred voices screamed back that they were.
Walker stamped his left foot on the ground, then dragged his heel a few inches, so that the metal studs imbedded in it threw up sparks. Make a show, they'd been told in Germany. Well, didn't he always? And with the lads behind him, there was none better.
"I mean, are you feelin' really good?" he yelled at the girls.
The screaming got louder.
Behind him, Steve could sense Pete's growing resentment that he was hogging the limelight. "This first number we'd like to do for you is one written by our lead guitarist, Eddie," he said. "It's called 'Lime Street Rock'."
He took a couple of steps backwards, to allow the pale young guitarist to take the central stage. Over his shoulder, he heard Billie Simmons start the introductory beat. Eddie lifted his pick to play the opening chords.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Death of a Cave Dweller"
Copyright © 2000 Sally Spencer.
Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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